The fifth annual Climate Action Summit took place in Sydney on 22-23 June. The attendance was a little down on the 300 of the past few years. Some of the best sessions were those about mobilising to resist polluting industries, from stopping drilling for CSG in the Illawarra to Quit Coal’s campaign that prevented HRL building the first coal-fired power station in Victoria for 20 years.
One of the four plenary sessions was devoted to federal election campaign strategies. In some ways it was both the worst and the best of these sessions. The worst because its focus was so relentlessly electoral, and within that, on the carbon tax. Greens Senate candidate Cate Faehrmann, with obligatory nods to the need for mass action, located the price on carbon as the Greens’ “core, core, core agreement with Labor”.
Similarly, Felicity Wade, the Labor Party speaker, emphasised defending the carbon tax. Tony Mohr from the Australian Conservation Foundation endorsed the price on carbon as a “law to make the polluters pay”, an amazing tool that could do amazing things and one that we must fight to keep.
The high point of this session was the speech by another panellist, Socialist Alliance member Simon Butler, who challenged the climate campaign’s blind spot – that a market can solve the problem. He pointed out the evidence that such markets are just subsidies to the big polluters.
As the European carbon market shows, buying and selling carbon credits not only has no effect on emissions, but even when the permits are free the companies pass on “costs” to consumers, making the project directly as well as indirectly an attack on workers’ living standards.
Little else in the major sessions of the summit pointed in a radical direction. Featured speaker British environmentalist George Monbiot pointed to the corporate influence that has governments do the bidding of business regardless of environmental consequences. But his solution? Pass laws limiting political donations.
More useful were the workshop discussions that raised the need for environmentalists to prove their interest in workers’ living standards by supporting strikes, and foregrounding concern for jobs as a key part of fighting the polluting bosses.